By Matt Heinz, President & Founder of Heinz Marketing

If replacing the value and ROI of a 20,000-attendee in-person conference was as simple standing up a couple webinars, I believe more companies would have done it a long time ago.  Unfortunately, it’s not that easy.

Attendees didn’t sign up for delayed flights and days out of the office to attend your general session.  Most of them can’t see the stage very well and were just watching keynote sessions on the video big screen anyway.  And that could have been done from home (or at least the home office).

Still, virtual events are about to proliferate and do represent the potential to create significant value for producers and attendees alike.

To truly replace some of the value and fun of live events, consider some of the following ideas for your virtual/web events in the coming weeks and months:

  • Make them interactive: Invite people to join via video, to introduce themselves in a virtual “lobby” before the formal program starts, create more opportunities in the program to get audience feedback, interaction and contributions vs a long block of lecture and one-directional content.
  • Make them less formal and more intimate: Look at who’s attending and prepare some call-outs based on people’s interests and achievements.  Encourage speakers to let their hair down and have fun.  Consider doing several smaller events vs one “big” event so the attendee audience is smaller and more likely to interact with you and each other.
  • Help attendees network with each other: Position your online event as a networking opportunity in addition to a learning event.  Give attendees an opportunity to share their contact information with each other, create a couple moments in the content to get people to send LinkedIn invites, perhaps even offer the attendee list to everyone who attends (just like you might do with a small in-person gathering of like-minded professionals).
  • Include giveaways: The first 50 people who sign up will get your trade show chotchkie mailed to them.  Or a random drawing of XX people who attend get them in the mail.
  • Create and moderate post-event conversations: Create a Slack channel, for instance, for attendees to continue discussing the topic afterward.  Be prepared to “seed” the group with topics or questions, perhaps even find some active community members to co-moderate with you.
  • Include surprises: Randomly pick a few people on the attendee list and have snacks or donuts delivered to their office right before the event starts.  Create some noteworthy moments during the event that get people to talk about it, tweet about it, and create more buzz and interest for the next virtual event you produce.

I’d love to hear other ideas and examples people are trying to make your own virtual events stand out and increase ROI.